Google recently announced plans to stop displaying star ratings in organic search results for organizations that display reviews or ratings on their own websites.
The decision could end organic search results that look like this:
Because star ratings provide valuable information for consumers seeking health care, and have been shown to improve click-through rates by up to 35%, Google’s decision could affect your organization and the people you serve.
Here’s what might happen — and what you can do about it.
How Google’s plan will work
Google explained its decision like this:
Reviews that can be perceived as “self-serving” aren't in the best interest of users. We call reviews “self-serving” when a review about entity A is placed on the website of entity A - either directly in their markup or via an embedded 3rd party widget.
That definition of “self-serving” reviews may include hospital and practice locations, as well as physician ratings on hospital websites.
The display of star ratings and scores — or “review rich results” — is triggered by a website’s schema. Schema.org is a system of marking up a site so that search engines can more easily understand what kinds of information it houses. For example, using Book schema markup on a page will tell search engines that the page is about a book.
While review rich results will still appear for books and many other schema types, Google’s plan will remove “self-serving” reviews for businesses and organizations using LocalBusiness and Organization schema types, including subtypes such as MedicalOrganization and MedicalBusiness. The decision may also affect provider pages using Physician (a sub-type of Organization) with aggregateRating reviews markup.
Why hospitals may be an exception
Noel Coleman, an executive at Doctors.com, revealed in a comment on a recent LinkedIn post that his company had spoken with a contact at Google who is leading the effort to remove “self-serving” reviews from organic search results.
The Doctors.com team argued that hospital star ratings based on verified, third-party data are “wholly different” than the reviews Google was trying to target and “are an important aspect to empowering patients to find care.”
“The case we made resonated,” Coleman wrote, adding that Google had asked them to share their argument publicly.
The impact so far
The upshot is that it’s still unclear if and when Google will completely remove star ratings for pages with Organization schema subtypes and Physician schema markup. At the time of this writing, many of our clients’ location and physician pages still display star ratings on search engine results pages.
And, in a recent study completed by MarTech.Health, 70% of a random sample of physician profiles pages still showed ratings on search engine results pages.
Five things you can do
1. Continue displaying reviews
Even if they don’t appear in search, showing reviews on your website can have a positive impact, including:
- Instilling trust in visitors who are in different phases of their journey
- Helping you monitor the reputation of services provided at a location or by a specific physician
Google has said that pages will not be penalized in search for displaying “self-serving” reviews. Those reviews simply may not appear on the search engine results page.
2. Continue using schema markup, including review schema
Schema markup is still highly valuable for search engine optimization. It helps search engines interpret and understand what type of content is on a specific page — especially when it comes to addresses, phone numbers, hours of operation, services provided and other important attributes.
And Microsoft Bing, the second most popular search engine in the United States, continues to support star ratings and has not made any announcements about the removal of ratings from its search engine results pages. It’s also possible that Google could reverse its policy or decide not to include hospitals.
We recommend continuing to use schema markup for your homepage, location pages, physician profiles, videos and event pages.
3. Focus on SEO best practices
If Google does remove your organization’s ratings from its search engine result pages, it could affect the click-through rate (CTR) to your pages. The absence of review ratings might make the results less compelling for users, leading to a decline in organic traffic.
This is where strong fundamental SEO best practices come in. Optimizing page titles, meta descriptions, calls to action, H1 tags, and other items with focus keywords can help you maintain good CTR and rankings.
4. Leverage Google My Business reviews
Google will continue to display star ratings based on Google reviews in the Google My Business Knowledge Panels.
As an organization, you should claim all your locations and providers, and manage your reviews, in Google My Business (a free tool). There are also enterprise-level solutions for online brand and reputation management, such as YEXT and Brandify.
5. Consider encouraging and displaying Google reviews
You may want to consider asking patients to leave a Google review of your organization’s locations or physicians after they receive care. For example, you could set up an automated process to email patients a link and request a Google review. This could be done as a supplement to your existing patient discharge process.
Organizations can also partner with a digital agency to use Google My Business API Place Details parameters. These can pull Google reviews onto location or provider pages using an API key and access to Google Maps Platform (a paid Google API feature).
If you have any questions about Google’s recent decision, or would like to optimize your site for search, we’re happy to talk. Please contact Glen Doss, VP, Strategy and Business Development, at firstname.lastname@example.org